Health and Social Development Minister Carvin Malone updated the territory regarding the number of active Covid-19 cases in the territory as well as an increase in various fines for breaching quarantine protocols. (Photo: SCREENSHOT)

A contact-tracing effort launched after two visitors to Virgin Gorda tested positive for Covid-19 during exit screening led to the discovery of five additional cases, bringing the total number of active cases to 18, Health and Social Development Minister Carvin Malone announced last Thursday. On Monday, that total was increased to 19.

Though no updates on the tracing had been provided as of the Beacon’s deadline yesterday afternoon, Mr. Malone explained last week that the visitors tested negative while in their initial four- day quarantine and were cleared through their “day four” test, but they tested positive during heir required exit screening. Health officials then launched contact-tracing efforts, which centred on a New Year’s Eve party on Virgin Gorda that one of the two vis-
itors had attended.

“One of the persons of interest visited a number of establishments on Virgin Gorda, and after an aggressive contact tracing exercise most of the close contacts have been identified, interviewed, quarantined and [are] being monitored,” Mr. Malone said last Thursday, adding, “One of the persons of interest has three contacts that have tested positive for Covid- 19, while others are scheduled for testing at the most appropriate time to detect the virus.”

All who tested positive were under secured 14-day quarantine, as required by the territory’s protocols, and subject to continued testing, he said.

Restaurant closures

In the midst of the concerns, CocoMaya restaurant on Virgin Gorda closed Jan. 5. On Sunday the restaurant posted a message on its Facebook page: “Following valid concerns of a Covid-19 positive individual visiting CocoMaya on New Year’s Eve, we wish to inform guests that the entire CocoMaya team have been tested and thankfully tested negative and CocoMaya is back open following continued sanitising, cleansing and protocol adherence.”

On Tortola, Brandywine Estate Restaurant also closed temporarily last week as a precaution after learning that some customers who attended a private party there on Jan. 2 had also attended the New Year’s Eve party at CocoMaya.
On Friday, the restaurant posted on Facebook: “All connections to the recent positive case in VG, as far as we know, have been tested and have negative results.”
The restaurant reopened Monday.

Reviews

Mr. Malone said last week that his ministry had reviewed multiple establishments and “determined that they are in full compliance with the appropriate protocols.”
However, contact tracing efforts were still ongoing as “an extra layer of security,” he said, and the ministry was still urging anyone who visited CocoMaya between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m. on New Year’s Eve to call 468-2274 or 468-4936 or email covid19.virginislands@gmail.co m to schedule a test.

“This request is for everyone who was in attendance, whether you live on Virgin Gorda or any other of the sister islands. All other cases are being managed in the community and the arrangements for these cases are secure and they do not pose a risk to the general population,” he said. “That situation is evolving with all close contacts having been identified, isolated and scheduled for testing at the most appropriate time to detect if they have passed through the incubation period.

“The focus has now turned to identifying persons who may have been exposed by casual contact through targeted mass testing.”

Mass testing took place on VG and Tortola Friday through Sunday, though no announcements about the results had been made as of press time yesterday.

“At this point the Cabinet is reassessing the situation and as information evolves will take advice from the public health team with respect to any further measures that may be required to mitigate any potential further impact,” Mr. Malone said.

‘Flagrant breaches’

Also in his statement last Thursday, the minister said he is pleased that people have been coming to get tested and that affected businesses have been “erring on the side of caution” by temporarily closing their doors when necessary.

“However, it is sad and regrettable to report that over the holiday weekend, far too many flagrant breaches of social distancing and public health protocols occurred at several restaurants, bars and night- clubs,” he said.

‘Scrutiny’

Investigations have been conducted and some of these businesses were placed under “additional scrutiny” by the Environmental Health Division and the Social Distancing Task Force, he said, adding that fines may be issued along with “other remedial actions.”

Of the 19 active cases in the territory as of Monday, six were located on Tortola, 12 on Virgin Gorda and one on a boat.

Last Thursday, he described six of the 18 cases as among people “ordinarily resident” in the VI, and the remaining 12 as visitors, but he didn’t provide an update on this statistic this week.

“Though not critical, one person is presently hospitalised at the Dr. D. Orlando Smith Hospital and is responding well to treatment,” he said last Thursday.

According to the Monday update, since testing began early last year, 16,204 samples from 16,190 individuals had been tested at the hospital with 119 testing positive for the virus and 98 so far recovering.

DR travel ban

Also in his statement last Thursday, Mr. Malone announced new, stricter travel protocols for travellers from the Dominican Republic, suggesting that the reason was because of a rise in cases there and because exotic dancers and other would-be workers from that country were being smuggled into the territory under the guises of family and friends of residents.

“These flagrant episodes of disregard for public safety and the protocols that have been established to ensure protection of lives and livelihoods during this time of the Covid-19 pandemic will not be tolerated,” he said. Cases in the DR have risen steadily since fall. On Monday, the seven-day moving average of new cases in the DR was 1,130, up from 353 on Sept. 30, according to Worldometer. Thus, effective last Thursday, people approved to travel to the VI originating or transiting through the DR are required to provide a five-day rt-PCR negative test prior to entry and must undergo a mandatory 14- day quarantine and testing on the day of entry; on day seven; and finally on day 14.

Mr. Malone also announceda travel ban from the DR that took effect Monday for anyone except “nationals, belongers, res-idents, work permit holders, persons permitted to reside in the territory, diplomats, and persons employed by government and statutory agencies.”

UK ban

A similar travel ban from the United Kingdom, which was previously announced, also took effect Monday due to the discovery of a new, more infectious strain of the novel coronavirus in that country.

“Persons caught violating these provisions — we will find you and we will fine you,” Mr. Malone said. “The government takes these breaches very seriously because it is costly to lock down. All of our hard work and efforts for the last nine months will not go down the drain.”

8,000 doses coming

On Tuesday, Governor Gus Jaspert provided more details about the vaccines, announcing that the UK government will donate and deliver 8,000 doses of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, which will arrive in terri- tory next month.

“They have been approved by regulatory authorities and undergone rigorous scientific review to ensure safety and effectiveness,” he said in a statement. “They are already being rolled out in the UK.”

Further doses will be provided in due course, he said, and the VI’s Ministry of Health and Social Development would be tasked with deciding how to dis- tribute them.

“As one of the first places in the region to receive the vaccine, this gives us an opportunity to make these islands one of the safest places to live and visit,” the governor added.



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